It’s been a tough winter already for airline travelers across the U.S., as various storms have forced the delay or cancellation of thousands of flights.

Then, even when the weather improves, there’s the backlog of planes and crew being in the wrong place, having flown too many hours or whatever, which can result in further delays or cancellations.

In addition, anyone who flies frequently can add stories to the list. Flights can be affected if the crew is ill, gets caught in traffic or oversleeps. And then there are the issues with catering, baggage, mechanical problems, broken jetways.

Just for an example, a friend who had booked with US Airways from Richmond to Nashville last week to arrive Friday at 1 p.m. with a Sunday afternoon return, ended up landing 8 hours late Friday night, and being stuck in Nashville Sunday night. No major storms were involved. And, there was no airline compensation either.

My own most recent flight was delayed because the airline forgot to board a dog. (No joke, not only did the pilot say it, you could see the little van drive up, the cargo door reopened, and the kennel put on the ramp into the plane.)

Fair enough, stuff happens. Unless it happens to passengers. Then with most legacy carriers it’s a $200 change fee, plus, what can be a significant fare difference. Even sometimes when the booked flight is sold out and the new flight is wide open.

The airlines’ usual response — “Buy insurance.”

I certainly understand how a last minute change might mean that an airline couldn’t resell the seat. Although more often than not when I travel, flights are full with standby lists and increasingly I get the announcement, “One of your flights may be overbooked, would you be willing to accept a $150 travel voucher to take a later flight?”

In many cases, travelers know well in advance that the dates need adjusting — children’s school or sports activities, an important event that comes up after ticket purchase and other family issues. These and other things often mean changing tickets months in advance and certainly weeks.

Now, I know that passengers exacerbated this problem themselves, when in days past it was an open joke that any doctor’s note would get you out of a penalty, even if it was from a dentist or a psychologist.

But, that could be easily fixed by requiring something more substantial — a bill, a prescription, even a hospitalization certificate. Or, for that matter, some other documentation of a real problem. Then, airlines could refund the change fees after the fact, once the information was mailed or scanned or faxed in to the carrier.

Perhaps the legacy carriers could put a small service charge for medical and emergency waivers to cover costs. I realize that airlines are in business to make money (in theory, even if you wouldn’t always know it from their pricing decisions).

I’m not enough of a dreamer to really expect anything to change. But, does anyone else think the current system, where travelers put up with whatever airlines do to them as far as delays and cancellations, while getting nothing in return, is just a bit ridiculous?